Even Google Can Suffer a Penalty…

Google penalties happen, its apart of life. Recently, the news has been filled with how Expedia, RapGenius, and a few other big name sites are suffering from penalties for shady SEO techniques. Your site might have been affected by the latest algorithm change or a manual review just like them but, did you know, Google has penalized itself in the past as well?

Yes, that’s right, even Google has violated its own quality guidelines in the past. This article will tell you the story of how Google has screwed up and penalized itself over and over.

In January of 2012, Google penalized Google Chrome’s homepage for 60 days for engaging in sponsored posts. At the time, Google was promoting its Chrome browser, the second most popular browser with a 35.3% market share. FireFox, the most popular browser at the time, had a 37.2% market share. Chrome was running a large promotion campaign that included TV ads. One of the ads is featured below.

In an attempt to get more video views, the Chrome marketing team purchased some sponsored posts on blogs with the TV ads embedded. The blog content was poorly written and poorly related to Chrome or the site it was posted on (see the content here). No way would the content qualify as adding to the user experience, something Google pushes webmasters to do.

The webspam team investigated the sponsored posts and determined, out of the 12 blog posts created, one blog post passed PageRank to Chrome’s homepage (read Matt Cutt’s comment here). Passing PageRank is a violation of Google’s quality guidelines and the webspam team decided to penalize the Chrome homepage with a drop in PageRank for 60 days.

The penalty result in Google Chrome’s homepage no longer ranking in the first page for key terms such as “browser,” “internet browser,” or “web browser.” In fact, Google Chrome dropped more than 50 positions for the term “browser,” from 2nd on the first page to somewhere on the 5th to 7th page. The penalty was lifted on March 16, 2012.

The reaction to Google penalizing itself for 60 days was mixed. In a survey done by Search Engine Roundtable with 250 participants, 50% stated they felt satisfied with the penalty, whereas 30% felt it was too lenient, and 20% felt that it was too harsh. The drop in rankings caused a 1% drop in Chrome market share as users had a harder time finding the Chrome browser via search.

That wasn’t the first time Google penalized itself either. In March 7th of 2011, Google purchased BeatThatQuote for $61.5 million. BeatThatQuote, the fastest growing website in 2007 according to Nielsen, was a price comparison website that allowed shoppers to compare prices on insurance, attorneys, credit cards, and even utilities. Within the same day it purchased BeatThatQuote, Google penalized BeatThatQuote for engaging in questionable SEO tactics. After 2 weeks, the penalty was removed even though the spam links were fully intact. However, the following day, Google re-penalized BeatThatQuote once again. BeatThatQuote’s website now only states that it was purchased by Google and its price comparison feature has been integrated into Google.

In 2010, Google penalized Google.jp for 11 months for engaging in sponsored blog posts where it paid bloggers to write good reviews of Google. At the time, Google was the second search engine in Japan behind Yahoo!. The penalty decreased Google.jp’s PageRank from 9 to 5. Yahoo! Japan still owns a 53% market share of japanese searches today but Yahoo! Japan searches are now powered by Google.

And, as early as 2005, Google was caught cloaking content and keyword stuffing on its own help pages. In response to that, Google fixed said pages and removed them temporarily from its index. Comments around the web stated that Google might of done those things to help users find correct help pages since search engines at the time were not so powerful. However, Google was de-indexing other sites for doing the same things.

As you can see, Google slips on its SEO as well right along with big brands who spend hundreds of thousands on marketing. Penalties do happen. However, when it happens to Google, it usually makes the news which results in tons of backlinks going to the offending site/page and, once the penalty is lifted, the rankings return and, sometimes, better than ever.

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